Debra Lee BET Chairman
Johnson left BET's Northeast Washington, DC headquarters for the final time last week amid a hearty toast by senior executives; emotional cheers and handshakes from BET employees; and a sea of black and platinum BET-logo balloons cascading across the company's campus as he drove away. "As Bob Johnson begins his second act as a business leader and entrepreneur, I wish him well and thank him for all he has done to create this amazing company and institution," Lee said.
Debra L. Lee, CEO of Viacom, Inc. subsidiary BET Networks, has been elevated to the rank of Chairman effective immediately, succeeding BET Founder Robert Johnson who officially ended his employment January 23.
Johnson left BET's Northeast Washington, DC headquarters for the final time last week amid a hearty toast by senior executives; emotional cheers and handshakes from BET employees; and a sea of black and platinum BET-logo balloons cascading across the company's campus as he drove away. "As Bob Johnson begins his second act as a business leader and entrepreneur, I wish him well and thank him for all he has done to create this amazing company and institution," Lee said. "Today, BET Networks is a collection of powerful brands and businesses. We have an excellent executive team in place to lead the next evolution of BET. We will continue to focus all strategy and resources toward leading and shaping this genre of entertainment targeting African Americans."
A Harvard-educated lawyer, Lee takes total charge of BET at a time when the brand is the most dominant consumer icon for African Americans; is coming off its most successful viewership season ever; and enjoys an all-time distribution high of more than 80 million homes in the United States, Canada and the Caribbean. BET's current business platform includes a diverse cadre of brand extensions: BET.com, the Number 1 Internet portal for African Americans; BET Digital Networks - BET Jazz, BET Gospel and BET Hip Hop, programming alternatives for niche genres; BET Event Productions, a full-scale event management and production company; BET Home Entertainment, geared toward development of more BET-branded offerings for the home environment including DVDs and video-on-demand; and the newly-launched BET Mobile service, a venture to access the lucrative world of ring tones, games and video content for wireless devices.
Lee, 51, first joined BET as vice president and general counsel in 1986 after serving over five years as an attorney with Washington, DC-based law firm of Steptoe & Johnson. During her tenure, Lee has played pivotal roles in the company's history, including Executive Vice President and General Counsel of BET's legal affairs department; Corporate Secretary; and President and Publisher of BET's publishing division. Even the construction of BET's corporate headquarters campus was directly managed by Lee. She stepped up to the level of President and Chief Operating Officer in March 1996; and was promoted to President and CEO in June 2005.
A North Carolina native, Lee's sphere of influence extends beyond BET and the cable industry to a realm where she is regarded as one of the country's top female executives employed among Fortune 500 companies. She serves on the corporate board of directors of global business icons Revlon, Marriott International and Eastman Kodak Company, and regionally for Washington Gas & Light Company.
Lee earned her Jurist Doctorate at Harvard University Law School, while simultaneously earning a Masters Degree in Public Policy from Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government in 1980. She graduated from Brown University in 1976 with a Bachelors Degree in Political Science with an emphasis in Asian Politics.
BET, a subsidiary of Viacom, Inc. (NYSE: VIA and VIA.B), is the nation's leading television network providing quality entertainment, music, news and public affairs programming for the African-American audience.